When I answer this question with, “About a year and a half,” the reaction is far different than when I say “We were together about seven years and a year and a half of that we were married.” It’s as if the asker wants to size up how much sympathy they should have for me based on the amount of time we were together. Married only a little over a year? Not that big a deal. But together for such a long time, far more tragic.
Truthfully I find it irritating when people treat that divorce like it defines me. The fact that I was wedded once before doesn’t feel like I’ve revealed a bout with a deadly disease or that I once practiced witchcraft or some other aspect of my character that should make you view me in a different light. I’ve had so many other significant experiences since that period in my history that feel more relevant. Life with my current husband, living in Manhattan and now Florida, undergoing what felt like a million rounds of IVF and raising two kids are all a part of who I am today and right now far more than a relationship that ended over a decade ago.
My husband now was also previously married before me, which elicits the same line of questioning except it’s always trailed by, “Did he have kids?” Does it matter? I’m never sure why that’s the follow-up. What would it mean to the inquirer if he did? Am I any more or less in your eyes if I have stepchildren?
After my final paperwork was done from the first marriage, I never checked the box at a doctor’s office asking my marital status. Single made me feel sad. Divorced or Separated felt like an invasion of my privacy. If I’m there to get my teeth cleaned, what does that have to do with my relationship? And checking Married certainly didn’t affect whether I was going to be prescribed a Z-pack or not.
When my now-husband and I got engaged about six years ago, our rabbi who is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch sect, said that our previous marriages were not valid under Jewish law. My prior ketubah was signed by members of the groom’s family and my now husband’s first marriage was to a woman who wasn’t Jewish. This time around we followed traditional Jewish law and customs including an Orthodox ketubah with the required Jewish witnesses, the bedeken ceremony, the Sheva Brachot and encircling my groom seven times. We both felt this made it more real, more “official.” Those first marriages are what we jokingly refer to as our practice marriages.
We all have bumps in the road and missteps in our past that with time become only a fragment of who we are now, the same way that having braces or getting dropped off that first day of college were challenging experiences that shaped me but still feel like ages ago.
Thinking back now on that time period where I was in a long-term relationship that led to a wedding and a subsequent dissolution feels a lot like looking through a cloudy lens at a made for TV movie about myself. I know the story is mine yet I feel mostly disconnected to it, like it happened to someone else. It’s neither a good or bad thing, it’s just a piece of the past.